The U.S. military is going green, in a big way and across a wide variety of applications. Military higher-ups plan to rely on renewable energy sources for 50 percent of their power by 2020, which could help the worldwide advancement of those technologies immeasurably. Many front line commanders see fossil fuels as a drain on their resources and a severe limitation to their capabilities. Renewable technologies offer a solution right now. The high casualty rate of soldiers who accompany fuel convoys is a big motivation for switching to renewables now in combat areas.
U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus is pushing biofuels for fighter jets, naval vessels, hybrid electric drives for ships and renewable energy systems for combat Marines. The military is playing a big part in helping the country reduce its dependence upon expensive oil. On its maiden voyage from Mississippi to San Diego, the U.S.S. Makin Island, the first hybrid naval vessel, saved 900,000 gallons of fuel.
U.S.S. Makin Island
At traditional encampment sites, renewable replacements to typical diesel or kerosene fueled equipment includes portable solar panels; energy-conserving lights; solar tent shields for shade and electricity; and solar chargers for communications equipment. There is less need for noisy, expensive, energy consuming portable generators. Some 30% of all the fuel trucked into Afghanistan is needed to power all those on-site computer terminals, laptops and many other assorted electronic gear that makes the military so lethal. But that fuel effectively costs about $45 per gallon to truck in and protect. Renewable energy systems turn out to be much cheaper.
Solar Panels at Work in Afghanistan
A typical Marine carries 100 pounds of supplies. About 20% of the weight a Marine carries is for extra batteries to power electronic devices. Using batteries recharged by the sun makes that Marine able to carry more ammunition and supplies, and fight longer and farther.
Concept for Soldier Wearing Flexible Photovoltaic Cells for Battery Charging
Renewable energy use is not confined to just fighting men and women, or deployed combat systems. Military bases are significant energy users as well and can benefit enormously by reducing their fossil fuel use via renewable energy systems. Here the solar, wind, photovoltaics and geothermal heating/cooling systems we associate with traditional renewable applications in residential and commercial size structures is perfectly applicable and being used.
Editor’s Deep Dive:
During World War I, Thomas Edison headed the U.S. Navy Consulting Board and contributed forty-five inventions, including substitutes for previously imported chemicals, defensive instruments against U-boats, a ship telephone system, an underwater searchlight, smoke screen machines, anti-torpedo nets, navigating equipment, and methods of aiming and firing naval guns. After the war he helped establish the Naval Research Laboratory, the only American organized weapons research institution until World War II . And speaking of World War II, Edison’s son Charles was Secretary of the Navy under FDR. Charles was responsible for development of the famous PT boats and the legendary Iowa class battleships which included the U.S.S. New Jersey, the longest serving and most decorated battleship— the “Big J.” (as decades of sailors serving in four wars affectionately called her). Charles’s wife Carolyn launched the famed ship on December 7th, 1942, one year after Pearl Harbor.
“I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”